By Jerry Del Priore
Bergen Beach’s Mike Taverna had two loves growing up: baseball and professional wrestling.
Taverna played competitive baseball from the age of three to 19. He even emulated his favorite player, Mike Piazza, manning the catcher positon up until 12 years old.
However, he developed osteosteatoma, a benign fatty tumor with bony elements, on his left hip. Surgery followed, which caused the young Taverna to be bedridden for eight months, and sidelined him from him sports for an entire year.
Once healed, the then-13-year-old switched to first base and continued playing up until his college freshman year. But seeing that baseball presented limited opportunities to turn professional, he decided to start training for a career in the squared circle.
Not knowing how his venture into pro wrestling would turnout, Taverna kept it under wraps for a while.
“I kept it pretty kayfabe,” he said, using a pro wrestling term for private. “I kept it a little secretive in the beginning, because I wasn’t fully sure how it was going to be.”
Taverna, 25, started training with New York Wrestling Connection (NYWC)—a Deer Park, Long Island-based independent outfit, and Alex Reynolds and WWE’s Tony Niese instructed him.
He did everything from sweeping floors and setting up the ring to learning every single basic chain wrestling move before taking bumps in the squared circle, which occurred a year into his grappling tutelage, according to Taverna.
Taveran said the entire learning-the-ropes process, from the ground up, humbled him and broke him in the right way.
“I’m just a firm believer, as soon you step foot through the doors, before you even buy a pair of knee pads and boots, you have to know how this business runs,” Taverna explained. “And if you don’t know and you’re not prepared for this, and you’re not respecting this and not humble enough, there’s the door. That’s my opinion.”
Saying Taverna is devoted to the pursuit of a full-fledged pro wrestler career is an understatement.
The five-foot-ten-inch, 225-pounder spends two nights a week training at Fighting Spirit Wrestling school in Gravesend, to better his in-ring skills, pumps iron religiously at Harbor Fitness Center in Mill Basin, and workouts with world-renowned strength and conditioning coaches in New Jersey.
This is on top of working a super busy schedule as a franchise consultant for General Nutrition Center, plus giving back to his old high school baseball program as an assistant coach during the season. In addition to work, he’s studying communications at CUNY College of Staten Island.
“Financially, I’m a 100 percent invested in this business,” the Madison High School alumnus said. “Mentally and physically, I’m 1000 percent dedicated to the business and my future in the business.”
As much time and effort he pours into pro wrestling, Taverna knew his career wouldn’t take flight without a memorable name and gimmick that resonates with the fans, not to mention a ton of charisma and athletic skill, which many in the business feel he both possesses.
First and foremost, when it came to coming up with a ring name, Taverna insisted on keeping his first name Mike. But he wanted a last name that would be easier to remember. He came up with Verna, something, he said, his baseball teammates called him during his days with the Golden Knights.
Up next was his gimmick. Along with his wrestling trainer at FSW, Joel Maximo, an accomplished wrestler in his own right, Verna said they developed the Man of Steel character (a take on Superman) due to his dark, shiny hair, steely good looks and chiseled physique.
Taverna debuted with FSW in 2013, and admittedly said he was at first awkard in the ring. But fortunately for him, he said he grew into his gimmick, and improved immensely as a wrestler, helping him become one of New York City’s top independent babyfaces, pro wrestling parlance for good guy.
“Even though I was the Man of Steel, there was no presence to the character,” he explained. “As I evolved and as I progressed in the business, more things came about: the cape, the hairstyle (with the trade mark front curl), the Superman tee-shirt and the theme song.”
As a side note to his bulletproof superhero persona, Taverna sports a half American, half Italian flag on his wrestling trunks as a way to honor his Italian-American heritage.
In addition, he has a tattooed cross on his arm with the Italian flag weaved around it.
As for now, Taverna, who holds a few indy championship belts, has no plans on turning heel, a bad guy in pro wrestling. He’ll let the fans, however, help dictate the character’s path.
“So many people, to this day, say, ‘When are you going to turn bad? When are you going to switch things up,” said Taverna, who uses the Cloverleaf and Crossface Lock holds to submit opponents? “I say, ‘Why fix things if they’re not broken?’ But it’s up them (fans) to change their minds and change the direction of the character. But why go heel if it’s working?”
For now, the Italian-American Man of Steel shows no signs of rusting. It’s just up, up and away, to the top of the pro wrestling ladder for the four-year pro.
Follow Mike Taverna on Facebook @https://www.facebook.com/mike.taverna.7.